Trupulse Bluetooth Transducer Speaker

I received a TruPulse Bluetooth Transducer Speaker for Christmas, and have been blown away by the portability and sound quality. This little device connects to a sound source via BlueTooth or the included line-in cable, and turns any surface into a speaker through transduction. Tables, boxes, walls – anything you can set it on.

This technology has been around for a while, finding a home in outdoor audio. What makes the TruPulse a Cool Tool is that it’s so portable. I can toss this in the bag with my phone and it’s less cumbersome than a set of speakers. I can pair it with my laptop on the dresser, and set the speaker on my nightstand to have the audio closer to me. It also gets loud enough to serve your livingroom from the coffee table.

I could see this being handy for the laptop road warrior in presentations, since you might have access to a projector, but speakers may be hard to come by.

-- Brian Schaefer  

[Note: The DIY electronics resource Sparkfun sells a simple transducer speaker kit for those interested in a DIY option.--OH]

Trupulse Bluetooth Speaker
$75

Available from and manufactured by Tru Pulse



C. Crane FM Transmitter II

The C. Crane FM Transmitter II takes a signal from an audio source such as an iPod, CD player or computer, and broadcasts it in FM, where it can be picked up by any FM radio within its range of up to 100-feet.

That simple description belies its versatility. I use it as a poor man’s Sonos: I broadcast music and podcasts from my computer to any radio in the house. I am not limited in the devices I use to hear the broadcast; I use a few Boston Acoustics Solo tabletop radios, but any radio would work, even a walkman-type device. Setup is fool-proof; just tune the radio to the proper frequency. Other people use it to watch movies without disturbing other people in the room. They just use an FM radio like the one in many iPods, and earbuds. Musicians use them for stage performance. Etc.

But there are other FM transmitters. This one stands out in a few ways. It has excellent audio quality, as good as you can get with FM. That is especially apparent in the bass frequencies. The limiting factor for your sound will almost certainly be your receiving radio or earbuds.

You can choose any broadcast frequency from 88.3 to 107.7 MHz, so are nearly guaranteed to find a clear frequency for your location. (The “digital” in the name refers to the digital display of the transmitting frequency, nothing else).

It has adjustable gain, so it will amplify even weak signals to the maximum it can handle (an LED indicator tells you when you are overloading it). It runs off AA batteries or its own wall transformer.

It can be very easily modified (by opening the case and turning a little knob) to increase its power dramatically. You can easily find instructions on the web. This is strongly recommended; the only critical reviews are from people who were disappointed with is range out of the box. That is caused by FCC regulations that limit the power allowed in all such devices. The modification will violate those regulations of course, but drastically increase the transmitter’s range.

It is cheap. Truly comparable transmitters cost a few hundred dollars. The version II is cheaper and has better audio quality than the original. And C. Crane occasionally has one that has been returned for even less.

There is basically nothing wrong with this device, and there is nothing better for the price.

-- Karl Chwe  

C. Crane FM Transmitter 2
$55

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by C. Crane



Sonos

Audio over the internet isn’t new, but it really is barely tolerable if it’s not coming out of good speakers with power behind them. These days there are lots of ways to accomplish this, but one reigns supreme. Sonos!

Sonos has already been reviewed in Cool Tools, but it deserves a revisit, especially considering the evolution of new features & configurations possible.

A Sonos “zone” is a single Sonos Box that features both an internal amplifier for direct connection to proper stereo speakers, as well as line-level outputs to your otherwise superb existing stereo system.  You can also use a single Sonos speaker as a mono output, or pair two speakers that, when synchronized, produce a stereo output. Oh, and there’s also a Sonos subwoofer available. A Sonos system can operate up to 32 wirelessly interconnected zones. Each zone can operate independently, or each can be tied to operate synchronously with other zones.

It can use sources as diverse as a line in (stereo, radio, computer, DVD/BluRay, TV, whatever), to local digitally stored content from a laptop, NAS, server, whatever, available to a single Sonos zone box (or bridge) which needs to be Ethernet cabled to the LAN (after which it’ll serve the whole Sonos system). Or you can stream things from Pandora, Spotify, XM, etc.

As far as control, you can use the optional handheld wireless controller (color display, etc), a computer based interface, or apps for most/all smartphones and tablets.

While Sonos may seem pricey at first, once it’s up and running it seems like the best bargain ever. When I’m at home I listen to WXPN (Philadelphia) or WFUV (NYC) almost exclusively – the best, I think, of the remaining old-style college radio stations. There’s a great station from Uganda that is terrific, too, in a wholly different way. And there are almost too many different sources to play with, so happy hunting.

My Sonos system may not actually be the best thing I’ve ever owned, but it always pops into my head as just that: The Best Thing Ever.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Sonos Play 3
$300
Available from Amazon

Sonos Play 5
$400
Available from Amazon

Sonos CONNECT:AMP
$500
Amazon

Sonos Bridge
$50
Amazon

Manufactured by Sonos

We first reviewed Sonos five years ago, and it remains one of the best networked home audio system available today. --OH



Planet Waves Tune Up

I’ve been using this tuner on my iPhone for about a year now. It’s a great, accurate and very cheap guitar tuner. I’ve tried other tuner apps, but they were not as accurate as this one. The free Gibson Learn & Master-app, which includes a chromatic tuner, is not usable because it is far from being accurate. I also tried another free app called Acoustic Guitar which again doesn’t work because you have to rely on your ears to tune your guitar.

In practice I’ve compared Tune Up to my standalone Boss TU12 guitar tuner. I use the TuneUp’s ‘needle’-display, which is much like the TU12′s display, and found the output to be the same: both are accurate, but the iPhone’s built-in microphone is much more sensitive than the TU12′s built-in mic, so it much easier to tune up an unplugged electric guitar with the TuneUp app. For the TU12 to get a good result you have to hit the (unplugged) string real hard, as for TuneUp, it immediately responds, so TuneUp output is quicker dispayed and it is also easier to tune because when your tone is sharp or flat it is shown in the display, as for instance ‘A#’ as the TU12 only shows a red triangle on the tight if the tone is sharp and a red triangle on the left if it’s flat. Another advantage for the TuneUp app over the TU12 is that if you forget to turn off the TU12, your 9V battery is sucked dry even when you put it aside.

The biggest disadvantage of the TuneUp-app is that for unplugged electric guitars it is quite unusable in noisy environments as it will pickup too many surround sounds. This is one of the main reasons why I’m not selling my TU12 as I rely on the ability to plug in the electric guitar directly into the tuner. Also, for adjusting the bridge-saddles I still rely on the TU12, with the guitar directly plugged in the TU12. But that’s because I still have not adjusted a guitars bridge setup using the iPhone-app. Maybe I will in the near future…

With Tune Up I can always tune a guitar everywhere I go, and now most of the time I can leave my good old ‘bulky’ Boss TU12 at home!

-- Douwe Rijpstra  

Planet Waves Tune Up
iOS
$1

Available from iTunes Store

Produced by Planet Waves



Pilot’s BlueTooth Noise Control Headset

pilots bluetooth headset.jpg

I work in a lot of data centers where the noise can be almost intolerable. My increasing tinnitus is probably a symptom of being in those places so much, and troubleshooting via cell phone is almost impossible, definitely supremely frustrating, with almost every headset I’ve tried, wired or BT.

So I found a Pilot’s-type headset with full Bluetooth profiles. It’s the Millennium Series with inline BluLink Adapter from Pilot-USA.

This thing is far from cheap and, of course, makes me look like a complete doof. But it plays music from my cell with terrific clarity and also lets me converse as if we’re in a private library. The BT implementation is excellent and gives the full features their due.

(Though my new phone – a Nexus S – currently won’t recognize the phone profile! I’m hoping ICS brings it to working status with this phone, so, fair warning!)

As expensive as this is, it’s about half the price of the Lightspeed Zulu or Bose A20 headsets. If you need this level of clarity, it’s a deal.

This headset provides by far the best phone experience I’ve had yet in seriously noisy environments.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Pilot PA-2170BLU Bluetooth Headset
$410

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pilot USA



Wind Chimes: Design and Construction

wind-chimes-2.jpeg

Make your own. Not those tinny flea market varieties, but large striking sonorous chimes tuned in all manner of unusual styles. (Listen to samples on the book’s website or included CD). There are several dozen unusual ways to tune the chimes. All tunings are fairly mathematical, which is the core of this book, but not difficult to execute with hardware-store tubing. My son and I used this short but very explicit manual to create a large copper pipe one that emits a lovely melody in the breeze. The bigger the better. (The bigger the more wind they need, too.) This guide is a very practical way to experience the math of music and the beauty of alternative music systems.

Setting up the hanging strings at the correct spacing.
Windchime2.jpg

Our copper chime hanging in the cherry tree.
windchime.jpg

-- KK  

Wind Chimes: Design and Construction
Bart Hopkin
2005, 68 pages
$15

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

chime spacing.jpg

chime rope.jpg




Howard Leight Sync Earmuffs

howard leight.jpeg

For years I have worn the previously reviewed Peltor AM/FM Ear Muffs while out mowing the lawn, or when working around loud noises. I was routinely disappointed by their lousy reception, but put up with it as I couldn’t find anything better for the price that still provided hearing protection. Recently, my stepson (Disclosure: This editor is his stepson.–OH) gave me a pair of the Howard Leight Sync Stereo Earmuffs to try out, and I haven’t used my Peltor muffs since.

The Sync Earmuffs do not have AM/FM reception, but instead rely on a 3.5 mm auxiliary input cable like you would find in a car. They come with an appropriately sized mini-to-mini cable that I plug into my iPhone (which is where you also control the volume). Now instead of listening to poor AM/FM reception, I can listen to the BBC America app, my music library, podcasts, and, if I really wanted to, one of the many available FM/AM emulators from the App Store.

As far as hearing protection, the Sync Earmuffs have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 25, which is similar to the rating for the pair from Peltor. I have found that they provide the same amount of protection. They are also lighter, don’t require batteries, and are roughly a third the cost of the Peltor pair.

The best part is that I no longer miss phone calls when I’m out on the tractor (which had been a serious problem), and am no longer startled when my wife shows up behind me screaming her head off trying to get my attention. I don’t even have to take the headphones off to take the call, I simply speak into the microphone on the phone and the sound gets ported through my headphones.

-- Rick True  

[For those interested in learning more about sound attenuation, I found this PDF explaining how they calculate Noise Reduction Ratings to be fascinatingly complex.--OH]

Howard Leight Sync Stereo Earmuffs
$22

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Howard Leight



Sangean AM/FM Pocket Radio

pocket AM radio.jpeg

This Sangean pocket radio costs a lot more (4x) than the smallest available iterations from Sony and Panasonic, but it’s well worth the extra cash for two reasons. The first is that it picks up AM way better than anything in its size/weight class, both in terms of the number of stations and, equally important, the strength and clarity of the signals. And secondly, its size, 3.5″ x 2″ x 0.6″ (measured by me) and weight, 2.05 oz. on my postal scale.

Note that there’s no speaker so you have to use earphones (they come with a pair). Finally, its form factor is remarkably similar to that of the long defunct iPod mini. Now I can listen without static on AM as Larry, Sonny and Sam call the woeful Redskins’ games.

-- Joe Stirt  

Sangean DT-180 AM / FM Pocket Receiver
$36

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sangean



Yurbuds

Yurbuds_full.jpeg

Yurbuds are my solution for exercising with headphones. They fit over top of existing headphones, though most of the options that you can purchase from the website come with a pair of in-ear earbuds. They twist in and have never fallen out on me. I just upgraded to the ironman version recently and have never fiddled with them once I start running. I run half marathons and did a full marathon earlier in the year, in the rain, and had no issues with my music the whole time training and running the race.

If you run regularly in races, they are often at many of the expo shows that happen before the race and will be willing to let you try a pair on. They have sizes in the blue/pink versions, but the ironman have a softer gel that fits with any size ear.

-- Allen Reinmeyer  

Yurbud Ironman Headphones and Adapters
$46
Available from Amazon

Yurbud Adapters
Several sizes
$20
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Yurbuds



Coby CV198 Noise Cancelling Headphones

coby198.jpeg

I front a band (the Deathbillies) and we rehearse in three separate studios with JamHub headphone mixers. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve developed the following requirements for headphones for live rehearsal: 1) A single-sided cord, so you can throw the cord behind your back, and it doesn’t get in the way of the guitar or drumsticks. 2) A detachable industry-standard 1/4″ or 1/8″ male-to-male cord that you can replace with any other standard male-to-male 1/4″ or 1/8″ male-to-male cord. 3) Full-size earcups, but not so big that they trap humidity.

The Coby CV198 wins on all three, and at about $30 they’re a bargain. I have at least 10 pairs of these headphones spread across three studios. They use a noise-cancellation system powered by an included AAA battery (but are great without the cancellation turned on).

The only drawbacks to these headphones are that they require a battery to work in any mode, and inserting the battery requires some patience and deductive logic. Also, the included 1/8″ stereo cable is really short, but as the cord is detachable and replaceable with any 1/8″ stereo cable you like I’ll be happy to replace the $1.50 cable instead of discarding the headphones when they short at the hardwire cable connection (which is how even the $300 high-end headphones tend to fail.)

-- Basil White  

Coby CV198 Noise Canceling 198 Stereo Headphones
$31

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Coby